Sunday, August 16, 2015

Lincoln Home National Historic Site, 8/15/2015

Today we toured the home of Abraham Lincoln and his family at Eighth and Jackson Streets in Springfield, IL. They lived in this home from 1844-1861, seventeen years. Many items in the home are original to the Lincoln family; others are pieces from the same time period. 

Lincoln arrived in Springfield on his horse with all of his personal belongings in two saddlebags. A self-taught lawyer, he attended only one year of frontier schooling in Kentucky where he was born. In contrast, his wife, Mary Todd, was well educated and came from a prominent Kentucky family. They married in 1842 and purchased the house two years later for $1,500. Initially it was a small cottage but was subsequently enlarged to make room for their growing family. Three of their four children were born in the house and one died here.

We began our visit at the Visitor Center where tour tickets (free) for the house are distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis. We arrived at around 9:30 am on a Saturday and only had to wait about 10 minutes for our tour to begin. Reportedly, there are times in the summer when tours for the day are full by early afternoon. The guided tour by a National Park Ranger is the only way to see the interior of the house. It lasts about 25 minutes and we found our guide to be very informative. 

Below is the parlor where the Lincolns' entertained guests. It is in the rear part of this room that Lincoln formally accepted the nomination for the presidency in 1860. 

The sitting room was where the family gathered to play games, ready books, play with the family dog (Fido) and numerous cats. The sterescope (on the table) was used to view special photo cards in 3D (a very early precursor to a viewmaster!)

Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln had a bedroom suite with one room for him and the other for her. This was a common practice for couples that could afford it. The wallpaper in his bedroom is an exact replica of what was once there. Also, the desk is Lincoln's original desk (quite small) where he prepared for legal cases and wrote many speeches. 

The photo below is Mary's bedroom (with the original original commode!) 

Boys Room. This rooms was first occupied by Robert, the oldest of four Lincoln sons. When he left for school, his two younger brothers moved in. 

The Lincolns engaged a "hired girl" around age 14-15 who helped Mrs. Lincoln with household chores and the children. She was paid $1.50 a week plus room and board. Her room was located on the second floor along with the other bedrooms. There were very few opportunities for females to work outside the home. This provided a great opportunity for a young woman to learn how to run a household.

The cast iron stove in the kitchen is the original one that was purchased by the Lincolns. Although she had hired help, Mrs. Lincoln loved to cook and did all of the food preparation herself for her family.

After the tour of the house, we spent some time exploring the neighborhood. The National Park Service has purchased many of the houses in the area and the historic site is now a four-block area. 

Two of the houses have exhibits. The Harriet Dean House exhibit, "What a Pleasant Home Abe Lincoln Has," focuses on the Lincoln's family life. 

There is also a 19th century kitchen garden (fruits, vegetabbles, spices) located behind the Dean House that is similar to what whould have been found at the Lincoln home and others in the neighborhood. Many kept horses, cows, and chickens as well.

The Arnold House exhibit, "If These Walls Could Talk" provides information about the construction of the houses and the political times in Springfield. 

Here are some of the neighboring houses. Sarah Cook House, a widow who let rooms to help support herself and kids; and the Henson Robinson House, a partner in a business that sold stoves, furnaces, and tinware.

Jesse K. DuBois House, the Illinois State Auditor, was a close personal friend and important political ally to Mr. Lincoln; Julia Sprigg House, a widow and her children lived here. She was a close friend to Mrs. Lincoln and her daughter babysat the younger Lincoln boys; and the Charles Corneau House, a Springfield druggist, records document that the Lincoln purchased remedies from him.

We returned to the Visitor Center where a video is shown every half hour and other exhibits can be seen. There is also a museum shop here. 

As history buffs, we appreciated all of the work that has gone on here over the years to preserve this historic home and neighborhood. Mrs. Lincoln never returned to the house after her husband's death. Robert, the oldest son, maintained the house as a rental property until 1887 when he donated it to the people of Illinois. 

There is no admission fee for the tour. Parking is $2/hour in the lot next to the Historic Site. See the website below for additional information and hours of operation.


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